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Bronzeville, Near South Side

After Years Selling Negro League-Inspired Clothes, A Bronzeville Businessman Is Opening His First Store Thanks To City Grant

Flyball, Reggio's Pizza and Pop That Pop On The Grove received grants through the city's Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.

Bruce Gage, right, started selling his wares at Navy Pier in the 90s then opened Flyball as a pop-up in Bronzeville
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BRONZEVILLE — Bruce Gage opened his Negro League-inspired clothing shop in 2018 in Bronzeville inside a shipping container-turned-retail pop-up.

Three years later, and with a six-figure grant from the city, Gage could be close to giving Flyball its first permanent home just down the street.

Flyball is among the more than two dozen South and West side businesses that received grants through the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. The program is designed give entrepreneurs in underserved areas a much-needed boost to start construction or renovations on their businesses, buy land and more.

Flyball received about $166,000 to build out its new location at 4400 Grove, the $38 million mixed-use development that opened in Grand Boulevard in the fall.

For Gage, it will be the culmination of years of work that started as selling his wares at a Navy Pier kiosk in 1993 under the name Mario Womo. He had some success — but once the bootleggers and knockoff sellers came, he stopped. He relaunched years later in 2014 under Flyball and opening the Boombox Chicago pop-up at 47th Street and Vincennes Avenue.

Gage, who is a co-owner of the shop, said he’s ironing out a few last-minute details before his yet-to-be announced grand opening, but is grateful for the help he’s received from the city.

“It’ll help a great deal because now we can finish our project. It’s really a blessing in disguise,” Gage said.

Reggio’s Pizza and Pop That Pop On The Grove also received funding. Reggio’s got $250,000 to complete an interior renovation of its shop, and Pop That Pop received $81,598.50 to launch its gourmet popcorn shop.

All three businesses are at 4400 Grove, which began accepting commercial tenants in the spring. Haji Healing Salon relocated from its Chatham outpost in June and Bronzeville Winery broke ground on its restaurant space earlier this year.

Credit: Chicago Housing Authority
The four-story, mixed-use 4400 Grove development on Cottage Grove Avenue in Bronzeville.

The Quad Communities Development Corporation has been diligent in bringing more Black entrepreneurs to the site. Gage credits the organization with helping him transition from a pop-up to permanent home.

Gage also said the historical significance of the 4400 Grove site was a major draw. Local legend says it was once the headquarters for the Jones Brothers, a trio of policy kings who reigned over Bronzeville in the mid-’40s.

Pop That Pop Managing Partner John W. Marsh said their grant will go toward equipment costs and hiring students from nearby Wendell Phillips Academy and King College Prep.

Marsh, a former Frito Lay executive turned mortgage broker, is no stranger to the gourmet popcorn business: His family owns Let’s Get Poppin, a Beverly mainstay since 1995.

Once all the permits are in place, Pop That Pop could open as soon as September, Marsh said.

Reggio’s owner Shari Wilson couldn’t be reached for comment about the business’ plans, but the website says the Bronzeville location at 4400 Grove is “coming soon.”

The South Side staple, which is known for is butter-crust pizza, opened in 1972 in at 8548 S. Cottage Grove Ave. in Chatham. It expanded to O’Hare in 1998 and has opened several posts inside the airport. It also sells frozen pizzas at local grocery stores.

Wilson took over the business in 2018, according to the website.

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